Wednesday, 16 December 2009

The 12 Days of Striking

OK, so I realise this is a blog that professes to be about racing, but occasionally I get an idea in my head that has to be chased up, and when British Airways cabin crew announced they have voted in favour of 12 days of strike action over the Christmas period there was only one thing that was ever going to come out of it. I think you know the tune.....


On the first day of striking BA gave to me;
A load of TV news items.

On the second day of striking BA gave to me;
Two weeks of cuts and
A load of TV news items.

On the the third day of striking BA gave to me;
"Me, me, me"
Two weeks of cuts and
A load of TV news items.

On the fourth day of striking BA gave to me;
More falling shares
"Me, me, me"
Two weeks of cuts and
A load of TV news items.

On the fifth day of striking BA gave to me;
"I'm on hold!"
More falling shares
"Me, me, me"
Two weeks of cuts and
A load of TV news items.

On the sixth day of striking BA gave to me;
Millions of refunds
"I'm on hold!"
More falling shares
"Me, me, me"
Two weeks of cuts and
A load of TV news items.

On the seventh day of striking BA gave to me;
Whooping Youtube footage
Millions of refunds
"I'm on hold!"
More falling shares
"Me, me, me"
Two weeks of cuts and
A load of TV news items.

On the eighth day of striking BA gave to me;
Massive queues at Heathrow
Whooping Youtube footage
Millions of refunds
"I'm on hold!"
More falling shares
"Me, me, me"
Two weeks of cuts and
A load of TV news items.

On the ninth day of striking BA gave to me;
"Call that a contract?"
Massive queues at Heathrow
Whooping Youtube footage
Millions of refunds
"I'm on hold!"
More falling shares
"Me, me, me"
Two weeks of cuts and
A load of TV news items.

On the tenth day of striking BA gave to me;
Winter sun is cancelled
"Call that a contract?"
Massive queues at HeathrowWhooping Youtube footage
Millions of refunds
"I'm on hold!"
More falling shares
"Me, me, me"
Two weeks of cuts and
A load of TV news items.

On the eleventh day of striking BA gave to me;
Crying honeymooners
Winter sun is cancelled
"Call that a contract?"
Massive queues at Heathrow
Whooping Youtube footage
Millions of refunds
"I'm on hold!"
More falling shares
"Me, me, me"
Two weeks of cuts and
A load of TV news items.

On the twelfth day of striking BA gave to me;
Bonuses for Virgin
Crying Honeymooners
Winter sun is cancelled
"Call that a contract?"
Massive queues at Heathrow
Whooping Youtube footage
Millions of refunds
"I'm on hold!"
More falling shares
"Me, me, me"
Two weeks of cuts and
A load of TV news items.


Just a bit of fun I cobbled together. However, I, of course, understand the severity of the situation, and feel very much for those who have had their plans over Christmas and the New Year ruined by this strike action.

You can follow the news story here

Monday, 14 December 2009

A 2009 Motorsports Review (Or "We didn't start the car")

Jenson Button, Rubinho, Red Bull and Dario
Jimmie Johnson, Valentino, Sebastien Loeb

Diffusers double tier, Nelson Piquet last year.
Abu Dhabi, South Korea hosting a Grand Prix

Helio’s tax trial, missed The Chase (Hey Kyle)
Gillett, The King and Ray, running E-Sad and A.J.

Indycar – barely seen, F1’s got some new teams
Monte Carlo IRC, Beamer-Sauber Goodbye

We didn’t start the car
The fuel started burning
Wheels have started turning
We didn’t start the car
No we didn’t start it
But we’ll try to park it

Adolf Hitler, Ecclestone, J.C. France and George is gone
Rockenfeller, Marco Werner, Lucas Luhr’s crash

McLaren’s Flo-vis, tell me what your time is
R15 - Sebring once around the clock

Field Filler Dexter Bean, Merc have brought the winning team
Aston Martin, Lola Cars argue about animals

Renault wheels at Budapest, Barber set for Indy test
Martin’s pace second place, trouble is the teammate

Dave Blaney parked the car
He’d rather be racing
But the accountant’s pacing
Dave Blaney parked the car
NASCAR will excuse it
But they’d rather lose it

Henry Surtees Tragic death, Mayfield caught on Crystal Meth
British race off and on, someone please save Donington

Barrichello’s spring has sprung, F2 splits the lower rung
NASCAR restarts double file – don’t make me call the shootout style

Prism, buy some tyres, Midtjylland – the little guys
Rossi nips to the loo, JP gets a drive through

Tony K’s pit fire, Bridgestone not an F1 tyre
Fisichella slower, beat Luca Badoer

Franz look out! Safety Car!
It pulled out with warning
Just as you were turning
Franz look out! Safety Car
It’s got the cop chief in it
They’re a total nit wit.

Sepang rain, short race, Kimi gets a choc ice
Peugeot protests, Litespeed and Lotus

Busch’s backwards victory lap, Kimi’s rally crash cap
Spa gird mixed up, Logano Sprint Cup

Kris Meeke IRC, Peugeot Le Mans and Petit
A1GP gone away, it was failing anyway!

I’m sick of Danica
I am tired of hearing
In what car she driving
I’m sick of Danica
I don’t want to hear it
I have grown to fear it

Brawn team, stacks of Yen, flying NASCAR yet again
Jean Todt, Ballot, Lie-gate, Lime Rock
Lots of sponsors pulling out, Indy gets IZOD to tout
Karthikeyen off the wall, Shanghai crowds are very small

Teddy Mayer passed away, Pascal Terry sad to say
Scott Sharp, Brand new Tub, Footage gets sped up
Put closed cockpits on the cars, Keeping track of Massa’s scars
FIA v FOTA wars – I can’t take it anymore

We didn’t start the car
The fuel started burning
Wheels have started turning
We didn’t start the car
No we didn’t start it
But we’ll try to park it


Read that and not clue what I'm on about? Try searching for listening to "We didn't start the fire".

Monday, 30 November 2009

My NASCAR Driver Of The Year: Marcos Ambrose

As December nears it is natural to look back at the last twelve months and contemplate what has happened, and when you are a racing fan, that means thinking of the racing of the previous season.

Part of this is looking at the best, most surprising, and indeed worst drivers of a series, and for NASCAR’s premier the choice (or at least my choice) for at least one of the first two categories may be a little different from the norm.

‘Who is it?’ I hear you ask, presuming you haven’t read the big, bold title atop this post.

Could it be Jimmie Johnson – man of four titles – Mark Martin – who made a triumphant return to full time competition – or even Joey Logano or David Reutimann who both took maiden wins this year.


It’s Marcos Ambrose.

Of course, the fact I’m an Ambrose fan makes be biased, having followed him since V8 Supercars coverage landed in the UK (or at least my consciousness) just as the Tasmanian was on the upswing that would see him clinch back-to-back titles in the series. The fact that Ambrose’s debut in the Cup Series coincided with Dave Blaney’s fall from racer to embarrasing running joke (actually the fact he wasn’t running was the joke) made the switch all the easier.

2009 was Marcos’ rookie season in the Cup Series, though after making a handful of starts in 2008 he was ineligible for the rookie of the year award, though he still had the yellow ‘rookie stripe’ on his car, a sign that only seems to warn those around you of your presence, or that NASCAR will turn a blind eye if they help you into a wall (unless of course you’re Juan Montoya, in which case you will probably be told to pick on someone your own size).

But compared to those who were rookies according to the rules, and Marcos spent much of the season beating them, even with Logano’s fluke rain-win at Loudon in the summer. His tally of 3830 points put him 18th overall at season’s end, with four top-fives and seven top-tens, dwarfing many of the more established drivers running for the more established teams than the Michael Waltrip Racing outfit that was behind Ambrose’s no.47 Camry.

Not only is Ambrose excelling himself on the tours pair of road courses, venues you would expect him to perform well at given his racing pedigree. He finished second at Watkins Glen and third at Sonoma, a race he could easily have won had he not had a blown engine move him from a third place start to the back of the field.

But has started to show promise on ovals. His races in Bristol, Dover and the late season showings at Texas and Homestead illustrating that he has more than found his comfort level in oval races. It is starting to reach that crucial point in the minds of fans and commentators when it is no longer a surprise when he makes an appearance in the top ten.

As the only other non-American full time in the series, it is easy to make a comparison to make a comparison.

So that’s what I’m going to do.

Both men landed in NASCAR in 2006, both running limited schedules (though Montoya’s was far more limited), Ambrose in the Truck Series, Montoya moving more-or-less straight into the Cup Series.

That perhaps is the big difference between the paths of the two, Montoya has often seemed to struggle to adapt in the Cup series, a handicap he is only now starting to overcome, while Ambrose has patiently made his way up the NASCAR series, from Trucks in 2006, the Nationwide series in 2007 and 2008.

That gradual acclimatisation may be what sees Ambrose pushing Montoya for the honour of being the first of the recent incomers to win on an oval, something you would have expected to be solely Montoya’s to chase before this season began.

And given Montoya’s position in the Chase, a rookie rivalling him for anything shows just how far Marcos Ambrose has come.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Ryan Newman Was Right, NASCAR Was Wrong

After NASCAR driver Ryan Newman was released from the medical centre at Talladega Superspeedway he was set upon by the normal flock of microphone clutching journalists and race reporters.

However, the interview he gave was far from the normal NASCAR diatribe, but was still sadly familiar to any fan who has watched racing at either of NASCAR’s Restrictor Plate tracks.

“[The crash] is a product of this racing and what NASCAR’s put us into with this box with these Restrictor Plates, with these types of cars, with the yellow line, with the no bump drafting, no passing. Drivers used to be able to respect each other and race around each other,” he said. “I guess [NASCAR] don’t think much of us anymore.”

Most of Newman’s anger during the interview was aimed at the sanctioning body itself for implanting rule that banned the normal bump-drafting in the corners, or as Dale Earnhardt Jr. put it, “it’s like the NFL changing from tackle to two hand touch football”.

And even before you think of how that rule change affected the racing it is plain to see the way NASCAR put it into action was, and still is, moronic.

The announcement, made at the Sunday drivers’ meeting by NASCAR president Mike Helton, came on the morning of the race.

After all the practice sessions had been run, after the car had qualified with their race set-up (Talladega being an impound race).

NASCAR is known for its knee-jerk rulings and having a rule book that often appears to be written in the sand at low tide, but Talladega took their goal post moving to new levels.

They actually moved the goal posts while everyone was playing.

Denny Hamlin openly admitted that his car was set-up to run what he called the “two car hook up”, the tactic which dominated the race at track earlier in the year.

Then you have to question the motivation.

What made NASCAR ban bump-drafting in the corners? There was no big crash in practice, the only big crash in the Truck Series race was caused by bumping on the back straight. The headline grabbing crash in the Spring race was caused by Brad Keselowski obeying the yellow line rule, and both big crashes yesterday were started on the straights.

In fact, Newman’s accident may have been caused by NASCAR’s bump-drafting rule.

The TV pictures (and crucially audio) before the crash were on board with Mark Martin, who was drafting in the top lane some half dozen car ahead of Newman. And, as he enters the corner, you hear Martin lift to keep off the rear of Brad Keselowski’s car. On the face of it Martin lifted because of NASCAR’s bump-drafting, a lift that rippled back down the pack until Tony Stewart backed off, just enough to get tapped by Newman, who had lifted enough to get tagged by Marcos Ambrose.

Even before the crash, fans were critical of the single file racing that the race fell into several times. Personally I feel that was inevitable. With the new bump-drafting rules, and the smaller Restrictor Plate, the drivers were bound to spend some time finding out exactly what they could do. They did the exact same thing the first time the COT chassis was used at Talladega, plus you cannot expect drivers to spend 500 miles walking the tightrope of three and four wide racing, especially when 12 of them are racing for the title.

Now, let’s address Newman’s assertion that NASCAR don’t trust the drivers. Firstly, I believe Restrictor Plates (or anyway of slowing the cars down) are the best way of racing at the giant Superspeedways.

Otherwise the speeds the cars would be travelling would be incredibly dangerous. The lap record speed at Talladega is 212mph, with the advances in technology and the expertise of the teams the speeds possible now would make any crash, even a single car one a potential tragedy, remember it was Bobby Allison’s single car crash in 1987 that is credited with bringing the advent of Restrictor Plates. As trustworthy as teams and drivers may be the one area where they cannot be trusted is to limit their own speed, they need to have it limited for them.

NASCAR felt that even with the plates speeds were still too high, and further decreased the horsepower of the engines for Sunday’s race.

What they didn’t need to do was ban bump-drafting.

If, as we are always being told (no matter how wrongly), the 43 best drivers in the world race in NASCAR, then they should, like Newman says, be trusted to race safely.

The COT chassis gave drivers front and rear bumpers that are the same height – perfect for bump drafting. The car is also very safe, that element was once more give a fine advert on Sunday as two drivers survived rolls.

However, perhaps the worst indictment of NASCAR’s rule was that now, nearly 15 hours after the end of the race, exactly no penalties have been levied.

I may not have perfect 20/20 vision, but I’m sure I saw some bump-drafting in the corners, and even if I didn’t I certainly didn’t see daylight between cars, and all the public heard (or were told) was near endless and general warnings from NASCAR.

That makes it a hollow threat, and as any parenting book will tell you, a hollow threat is an easy way to lose respect.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus: Credit Where Credit is Due

I’m not big Jimmie Johnson fan, I’m even less of a Hendrick Motorsports fan, so you know it hurts me when I say ‘Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus are just very good, that’s a fact’.

Jimmie, with his crew chief Knaus, now hold a 118 point lead in NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup over their nearest rival – another Hendrick driver, Mark Martin.

Among those who are paid to know, and those who just like think they know, Jimmie’s name is already etched on the trophy for the fourth consecutive year.

‘But wait!’ I hear you cry. ‘Aren’t there still four races left this season?’

And yes there are, and 118 points over four races may not seem like a big lead where the points change per race can be as high as 150 points, but the fact is that Johnson’s results dropping to that extent is less likely than tobogganing in hell.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle to Johnson’s aspirations of the fourth title on the bounce, a feat he would be the first to achieve in NASCAR, is the next race at Talladega.

Followers of NASCAR, or indeed even those who know of NASCAR, will be familiar with what can happen at the giant superspeedway in Alabama. Restrictor plates, huge pack racing with inches to spare, and ‘the big one’ accidents that can claim as many as a dozen cars in a split second.

If Johnson gets caught in one of those accidents, and his rivals finish well, his lead will be gone, and those already crowning the California native as champion again will go quiet, at least for a time. Though at this point it should be mentioned, there is just as much chance of Mark Martin, or any one of the other title chasing drivers getting caught in the carnage.

Every driver knows of that chance. Johnson himself described how he was tired of answering questions about Talladega in press conferences after last weekend’s race.

And how has Johnson got himself into this position?

Well, by just being very, very good.

You do not win three titles, and look to be heading for a fourth, by simple luck. And while Jimmie automatically takes the main plaudits as the man behind the wheel, I feel the rest of his team must get some of the credit.

Firstly, the people who put the car together. The car is fast, but also reliable. A trawl through past records will show that the no.48 team have suffered only one mechanical DNF in the past three years.

Then you come to the real brains of the operation. Chad Knaus.

While not privy to the goings-on to at Hendrick, I give a lot of personal credit to Knaus for what I see as his plan.

NASCAR’s ten race Chase system presents drivers and teams with the opportunity to just run well in the 26 race, pre-Chase ‘regular season’, before running very well at the end of the season when it counts. The artificial closing up of the top-12 drivers means that as long as you make the cut it doesn’t really matter what you’ve done since February, only what you do from October onwards.

NASCAR also does not alter the races in the car very much – yes, this year they swapped Atlanta out for Fontana, but on the scale of changes they could have made it rates as miniscule.
This static 10 race mini-season allows the teams to concentrate on getting their cars to run well on those tracks, maybe being happy to sacrifice their pace at Bristol, Darlington, Watkins Glen, Pocono or any other of the tracks that don’t host a Chase race.

This, I believe is what Johnson and Knaus have done. They both know they are good enough to take a car that is not perfectly set up, and still leave the track with a solid finish. They can then take advantage of the fact that all but two venues – Kansas and Homestead – host a regular season race alongside their Chase dates.

Is it pure coincidence that two of Johnson’s three ‘regular season’ wins come on such tracks – Martinsville and Dover?

Probably not. If he and Knaus concentrate that heavily on perfecting a set-up and approach of the Chase races, then of course they are going to run well at the same tracks, no matter the time of year.

Earlier in the Chase Jeff Gordon was quoted as saying that aside from Talladega the Chase tracks were Johnson’s strongest tracks.

But, what came first, them being Chase tracks, so Johnson got good at them, or Jimmie’s favourite tracks just happening to be the ones that constantly decide the championship.

Unless you subscribe to a colossal conspiracy theory, you’ll probably join me in believing the former.

And if Johnson, Knaus, Rick Hendrick and anyone else involved in the no.48 team are smart enough, good enough and brave enough to do this then they probably deserve four titles.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Bernie is right on the British Grand Prix

“Do we need a British Grand Prix? No.”

That is what Bernie Ecclestone, who holds the contract rights to F1 is quoted as saying in a BBC article today.

As I write the plans for the 2010 British Grand Prix are in turmoil, Donington Park, the track that secured the deal to host the race for next year have been unable to raise the money needed to improve the track and its facilities in time to meet the last of the many deadlines the track, under the control of Simon Gillett, have been given.

Silverstone, the track which looked like it had lost the race, has offered to step in and take the date at relatively short notice.

However, Ecclestone has revealed that he will not negotiate a “discount” contract with the Northamptonshire track, despite the fact that other historic races, such as the Monaco and Italian Grand Prix do.

Seemingly central to this approach is that Ecclestone does not believe that F1 needs a race on British soil, or at least not one at Silverstone (offer him that fabled London street circuit and it’d be interesting to see his stance).

And you know what, he’s right.

Firstly F1 does not NEED any particular race. There are more than enough countries queuing up to host a race. Yes, most are Far or Middle Eastern countries, some have tracks of debateable quality, but there is enough interest to keep a 16 or 17 race calendar going. Simply because there is no British race does not make the eventual winner less of a World Champion.

Secondly, and more frighteningly, F1 does not NEED a British race.

You can argue that the fact that most of the teams are based in the UK should safeguard a home race? But why should it? They already travel the equivalent of umpteen times around the world in the season, what difference would maybe having one less race in Europe make?

And the team’s wouldn’t just up and leave because there was no race in Britain, they are here because of the huge pool of talent they can rely on and top class facilities, not because there so happens to be an F1 a metaphorical stone’s throw from their front door.

Also, from what I see so far, it’s the fans who are crying out for a British Grand Prix rather than the teams.

After all, fans are what keep the sport going. Fans make the sport saleable for sponsors, suppliers and manufacturers.

And are British fans going to still be watching F1, either at the tracks or on TV, even if there is no British Grand Prix?

Yes. Yes we are.

We will kick up a fuss for a few months, but by March next year, we’ll all be sat back in our normal chairs watching the first F1 races of a new season? Compare that to what Bernie will no doubt call "emerging" markets, such as Korea or India where fans need to be introduced to F1 on their doorstep.

OK, so no-one will get the gate receipts from a Silverstone, or even a Donington, weekend but many of the same fans who would attend a British Grand Prix will start change plans to go to another race. Spa, Monza, maybe a race further afield.

Sports fans, after all, are already used to spending money on flights (or other travel) and tickets to follow their favourites. Why else would sports stadiums around the world have “away ends”, why else would the Channel Tunnel be packed with cars headed for Le Mans every June.

Bernie will still be able to rely on the British Pound reaching F1’s pocket, so on a business level he doesn’t need the British Grand Prix, he simply needs the British, and the two are very separate.

But I repeat, that’s on a business level, not a sporting level.

I suspect Bernie doesn’t care about that.


NB: I, under no circumstances, support Bernie Ecclestone, the man is a greedy, evil man with no sense of how to run a sport. And that is what F1 is - a sport.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Brawn GP win constructors' title. Remember it.

I want to take this time to congratulate Brawn GP as much, if not more, on their winning of their winning of the constructors’ crown as Jenson Button an winning the drivers’ title.

In the furore that always the crowning of a new world champion in anything the turns in the road they have travelled to get there get smoothed out. This year there are those who have bucked that trend, mostly by implying that Button is somehow a less worthy champion because he remained winless for the second half of the season.

Another fact of most F1 titles is that the winner of the constructors’, teams’, manufacturers’ (call it what you will) title is often quickly forgotten by all except the anorak community. The winning constructor is never a pub quiz question, the winning constructor is never heralded with multiple awards and the chief mechanic never gives a gushing acceptance speech. If I ask you to reel off every winning constructor of the 90s and you’d probably falter (unless you are a ‘special’ kind of fan), drivers of the same era and you’d never even stumble.

But Button is world champion.

He made the best of the situation that was presented to him, winning six of the first seven races while his teammate, by way of contrast, won none in the same equipment.

But this year it was more apparent than ever just how big a role the team and car play in scoring wins.

At the start of the Button was transformed from a man who had previously won a grand total of one Grand Prix in a career filled with midfield mediocrity into a multiple race winner.

On the other hand Lewis Hamilton, a man whose form since entering F1 made you suspect he might also be able to have a stroll across Monaco’s harbour, was left looking enviously at the top half of the grid. And that’s before all the mad too-ing and fro-ing during the season.

But Brawn aren’t just any team.

They are, of course, the rescued Honda outfit, thanks to a management buyout led by Ross Brawn, after the Japanese manufacturer pulled out after two disappointing seasons.

But even if Honda may have left useful things like designs for cars and the occasional stack of cash around Brackley, it was only part of the job.

Brawn and Nick Fry still had to build the car, get as much testing as possible before the ban fell and secure an engine deal. This is where, in my opinion, the team won the title.

Firstly Button needs to give a big warm hand shake to the man who found the loophole for the double-decker diffuser. Yes someone at Williams and Toyota found the same loophole, but no-one seemed to exploit it the way Brawn did. That may be down to the fact Honda abandoned their 2008 campaign almost as soon as it began, so had six or so months longer than everyone else to study a massive raft of rule changes.

The second master stroke made in the back room was whoever decided to give Mercedes a call over supplying engines. A marque that had not been a customer supplier before this year, was suddenly the most prolific powerplant in F1, and the fastest. There have been very few times this year when one of the six Mercedes engines has not been at (or near) the top of the speedcharts.

Even once these choices had been made and the team had taken their early successes times were tough. The residual Honda money, and any gained from sponsorship as the team’s potential became obvious, was not enough. The team had to fire several workers even after the victory in Melbourne.

Then as the season moved to Europe chinks began to show in the Brawn armour. Vettel and Red Bull already had one win in China and were now introducing updates at a rate very few, let alone Brawn, could keep up with. Other teams were getting updates, including the once crucial double diffuser, and the march Brawn had stolen in the winter had melted away by the summer.

Doom-mongers doubted the team’s means and ability to keep their car competitive as Red Bull clawed back into range over the summer.

But Brawn did introduce upgrades. A one-two finish in Monza a tour de force for the team as the brute force of the engine was complemented by strategy choices by the team that pushed both drivers past the rapid two-stoppers ahead.

That result aside the upgrades did not win races, but rather did just enough. They no longer needed to win races, a reward for their early and off season work.

And for that alone Brawn’s title should be remembered.

Friday, 16 October 2009

All Filler, No Killer - The I Still Refuse to Call it Auto Club Speedway Edition

Oh dear merciful Lord, it’s back! Just when you thought it was safe to be a NASCAR driver and do something vaguely stupid “All Killer, No Filler” returns after one it’s brief getaways.

This means that instead of being stuck with the seven dwarfs of the race before I get to pick and choose who I want from a bunch of races, so sit back (not that far back, you’ll probably need to scroll down) and enjoy the shambling, shuffling (and rather late) return of AFNK as it slips in the back door like you do when you come home three hours late after a night at the pub.

Let’s just hope they’re not up still.....

Dave Blaney
– Yes, I get to pick and choose who gets to ride the bus this week, but it just wouldn’t be an edition of AKNK without Dave Blaney, he’s the field filler comfort blanket that keeps us all warm at night. Sunday night at Fontana he didn’t disappoint (although he was still recovering from a dizzying 37th place in Dover) as he fumbled to finish 40th, completing just 22 laps before “overheating” parked the car............10/10

Michael McDowell – People of California. I ask you “was it absurdly hot on Sunday afternoon?” Could you fry eggs on the pavement? Were people breaking hydrants simply to get some fresh, cooling water that evaporated before it even touched the ground where it would have instantly boiled on contact? I only ask as there seems to have been an outbreak of overheating at Fontana, with Blaney, Mcdowell and David Gilliland all had their races ended by over-heating (although between you and me the only “heat” involved in Gilliland and the #71’s retirement was Kyle Busch’s fever and the Gibbs money burning a whole in the team’s pocket...................10/10

Michael Waltrip – MWR have gone insane! First you have Michael’s Evil Kneivel impression through the big accident on Sunday. Everyone else is crashing, spinning and wrecking around you, what do you do? a) back off until you the smoke clears or your spotter tells you the spinning, crashing and wrecking has stopped or b) floor it right through the middle, doing a combination of fervent prayer and the song your mother used to sing to you? If you picked a) you’re sensible, if you picked b) you’re Michael Waltrip (hello Michael) or you’re just being silly. Then comes the news they’re chatting up Danica Patrick about a move to NASCAR. They can’t be that desperate for publicity.....4/10

Sam Hornish – Honey, I’m worried about Sam. I think he might actually be a NASCAR driver. The artist formally known as Sideways turned in another creditable performance by finishing 12th, a result that once would have only been because of the top contenders crashing, flukish fuel economy or divine intervention. Sam may have outlived his days as a NASCAR joke, which mean we need someone to fill his shoes..........3/10

Casey Mears – And who better to move onto that Casey Mears, a man who has had every opportunity thrust upon him and has failed to do anything, other than with the help of the same divine intervention mentioned above. The TV people are obviously fearful for Casey’s future, going to great lengths to point out how he was running sixth for a few laps, which was his highest finish of the season (I wonder how many fully funded multi-car teams would be proud of that?). Casey soon slumped to eleventh, which isn’t his best finish of the season.........4/10

Ryan Newman – Perhaps it’s because I’m not American, or because I like watching racing, rather that listening to infomercials, that NASCAR constant product placement makes me squirm in my seat like I’ve just had an accident in my trousers (sorry, pants). But at Lowe’s on Saturday Ryan and Jeff Gordon will promote the Transformers sequel, but “becoming” Transformers themselves (I’m not sure but I don’t think they’re going to fit the templates somehow). The only way it could be any better is if Jimmie Johnson were the evil Megatron – actually there is no way we know he isn’t......5/10

Brian Vickers – My guess is Brian is probably hoping he didn’t make the Chase right now. That was he’d be getting all his appalling luck and bad weekends out of the way while no-one was looking, concentrating on the efforts of Kyle Busch after he made the Chase at Richmond. This weeks misfortune was a broken shock absorber, which the team overcame with the same sort of technical expertise you use when you lick a battery to see if it’s working, by shoving four spring rubbers in. Then they managed to get involved in the big crash – more on that later.......7/10

And the Brikkie Goes To............

Let us address the Brikkie by tapping into movie and/or book quotes. What, everyone are the rules of Fight Club? 1. You don’t talk about Fight Club. 2. You don’t talk about Fight Club. Now let’s compare that to the rules of NASCAR (or at least what we imagine the rules to be, the book itself being as elusive as Unicorn crap) 1. You don’t talk about debris cautions. 2. You don’t talk debris cautions. I think Kasey Kahne’s in trouble.

Next Week.

A right mixed bag. David Ragan and Paul Menard, Michael “crazyman” Watrip and Denny Hamlin, alongside the field filler trio of Dave Blaney, Mike Bliss and David Gilliland.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Suzuka: The end for gravel traps?

The various accidents over the Japanese Grand Prix weekend at Suzuka – especially those suffered by Timo Glock in qualifying and Jaime Alguersuari in the race – are likely to cause the debate about run off areas to be re-opened.

It is one of the criticisms often levelled at the new Hermann Tilke "Tilke-drome" circuits (and those older tracks that have been “improved”) that the huge swathes of high grip tarmac that act as run off areas detract something from the challenge of driving a race car round a track fast. There is no (or very little) punishment for running off track.

A driver can simply carry on, maybe flicking down a gear and losing some track position, but carrying with he and his car none the worse for wear. F1 should be difficult, and gravel traps make it more so, and that’s before you consider that more gravel traps would render the chicane cutting dilemmas null and void.

As you may be able to tell I normally count myself squarely in the group who support the use of gravel traps and walls to stop cars and punish mistakes with retirement.

But the events at Suzuka may have changed that.

The Japanese track has been improved massively since its previous F1 races, new paddock buildings, massive resurfacing and the addition of concrete run off areas.

In commentary for the practice sessions for the race at Suzuka former (and probably future) F1 driver Anthony Davidson described how Spoon Curve used to have a vast gravel trap to its outside, that any mistake would send you skipping over at pretty high speed.

A daunting experience.

However, in these days of personal injury lawyers and litigation “daunting” is not a word people like, along with “risky” and that Spoon gravel trap has given way to another sea of tarmac (save for an awkward section at very end).

But unlike the new "Tilke-drome"s Suzuka has split its run-offs between tarmac and gravel. The turn one gravel where Senna and Prost once came to a halt is gone, the outside of 130R is similarly tarmaced over.

But grass and tyre walls still flank the esses, the Degner curves and the final bend – a location not unknown for big accidents even before Glock’s impact.

But Glock and Alguersuari put a massive dent in any argument for gravel traps (and their cars).

In both cases the gravel traps did not stop the car. No matter whether we want drivers punished for their mistakes we don’t want them injured.

Even more worrying was the manor in which both cars, most noticeably Alguersuari, were sent airborne by skipping over the gravel or the change in running on grass to gravel. There are all too many accidents where an airborne car hitting the barrier has terrible consequences. Put simply you can design barriers to cope with “conventional” impacts where a car hits at the base of walls, but put a car airborne, even slightly, with all the pitching and yawing, and (no pun intended) everything is up in the air.

Now, if you still support gravel traps you can argue that the traps that both drivers encountered were narrow, meaning there was very little room between the track and the barrier. You can also argue that Alguersuari’s crash was an odd place on the track.

And it was.

But perhaps gravel just isn’t the best way to stop and F1 car. Perhaps they are just too fast, and too light, and with the skid plant tend to skim over the traps like a flat stone over a lake.

Whatever the technical reasons the fact remains. If there was no grass and gravel then the four wheels retain contact with road and higher grip levels.

And higher grip levels means more chance to scrub off speed, or steer way from the worst of the impact, which means fewer injured drivers.

Which we can all agree is good.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

All Filler, No Killer - The Confusion Abounds Edition

NASCAR drivers are simple beings.

Why else would the complain the end to the race was confusing?

Yes there was tyre smoke, and yes there was a yellow flag, but that's not exactly uncommon is it?

What are they going to be like when it gets really confusing (checks NASCAR schedule for Talladega), how do they cope in the real world where we have really confusing things, like having to cook at roast dinner, or women (please not, I'm saying women are confusing, not that cooking women is confusing (although it would be, you need to find a place to buy a bigger oven for starters))

Anyway - on with the show.

Max Papis - An easy start. The was no Max Papis at Loudon, and there is only so much you can write about fresh air - it's mostly nitrogen you know............10/10

Dave Blaney - One more race. One more retirement. One more excuse (electrical this week). It really is coming to the point where there is only so much you can say about Dave Blaney's "season"....................10/10

Michael McDowell - M&M called it a day after only 36 laps (maybe Tommy Baldwin wanted to work on his Phil Parsons-esque money counting). At this point in the season, cast your mind back to Daytona. What were we being told where the "feel good stories" of the season. Tommy Baldwin and Jeremy Mayfield, and what do we have now - just another field filler, and nothing at all............10/10

Aric Almirola - I have a confession to make. It wasn't until I can to start writing AFNK this week that I realised that Aric was in the #09 car (rather than Mike Bliss whose slot this is). Now that is a poor start (especially as I am one of the few who believes the young man deserves a proper Cup chance), even worse is going a lap down early and finishing 29th. Dear Aric, you only get so many chances in the shop window when people are looking, and you were looking in the wrong direction................8/10

Jamie McMurray - In the least surprising news since [insert a very unsurprising news story here, feel free to suggest your own in the comments section] Jamie McMurray is pretty much signed for Earnhardt Ganassi. However, still behind the wheel of a Ford he came a creditable 18th (one behind chief-Roushketeer Carl Edwards). And by way of comparison he was behind only one of the drivers who took 'his' ride at Yates (but what do I know of the people who make decisions)....................4/10

Brian Vickers - If anyone doubted Vickers' Chase credentials (OK, you can put your hands down now) then his run at Loudon should have done a lot to shut you up. His 26th place start, compared to Shrub's 9th, seemed to show the wrong Camry man was in the shootout, and although Kyle's 5th (admitedly with cheating) beat BV (which in nature stands for Belch Vocalisation, how gorillas communicate) by 6 places the Red Bull driver's push though the field and up to 8th in the standings showed that he might yet have a part to play yet...........2/10

Tony Stewart - Can we all club together and buy Tony Stewart a lucky rabbit's foot, or a four leafed clover, or at least repair the mirror he broke to try and solve the shoddy luck he and his #14 team have had the last few weeks. This week's curious failure was an axel cap, that plunged a front running drive, and return to form, to a battle for track position and very early Chase damage limitation...................4/10

And the Brikkie Goes To.............

OK, let's not beat around the bush, it's Dale Earnhardt Jr. I'm no fan at all of when driver's call each other out for a percieved lack of talent, and Jr. did exactly that to David Reutimann after their late race crash. David just got loose and Jr. happened to be in exactly the wrong place at the wrong time. It happens to everyone, I'm sure even St. Junior of Kannapolis has made the mistake occasionally. However, in his defence I suppose if anyone should be able to recognise anyone running out of talent it should be Dale Jr.

Next Week

The circus head to Dover, with the man on the tightrope of control, Sam Hornish Jr, Rocketman Ryan Newman, acrobat Carl Edwards, the trio of clowns with Tony Raines, Dave Blaney and Michael McDowell and Michael Waltrip - the bearded lady.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

All Filler, No Killer - The Chasing Your Tail Edition

OK, so it's the Chase again.

Do you like it or loath it?

Do you love the fact that drivers were fighting each other with single positions the difference between Chase and no Chase, and will be fighting for the next ten races for the title? Or loath the fact that the man who won the sport's biggest race and (arguably) the best driver in NASCAR will have to be contended with 13th.

Of course, NASCAR face a dilemma, as Dale "the cash-cow" Jr. isn't in the Chase (let's see them change the rules of next year). Nor, currently is he anywhere near the cut-off for next year's shootout, being about the 11th best Chevy in the standings, but that is but a small hurdle. Yes, there are quite a few Jr. rants week. You'll see.

Mike Bliss - Welcome to the merry-go-round that never stops that is the NASCAR driver market. On the merry-go-round this week Mike Bliss got off the horse-that-goes-up-and-down that is the #09 car and onto the static-sleigh-thingy of the #71 (if your interested in this strange metaphor David Gilliland was onto the bit-on-the-middle-that-doesn't-turn). And this week that static-sleigh-thingy had "transmission" troubles and finished 42nd....................10/10

Dave Blaney - The only man who failed to beat Mike was, the one, the only (thankfully as far as this season's "displays" have gone) Dave Blaney. Once more the Buckeye Blank was pulled in very, very early (36 laps the official count). And the good news is, with Yates and Petty merging for next year we're likely to have at least one more field filler. Competition for last place may soon become more fierce than for first......................10/10

Joe Nemechek - Are you sitting down? Good. Joe actually finished. I mean he almost did the proper race distance, only finishing 4 laps down, in 35th (for anyone else 35th would have me labelling them "anonymous" and "filler-ish", but Joe managing that this year is similar in surprise level to him managing to part the Red Sea, but if he can manage to get a proper sponsor for that I suppose there is always hope.............8/10

Dale Earnhardt Jr. - OK, so Jr. once again Dale Jr. looked like he might do something to warrant the hours of TV time that are dedicated to him, but once more failed miserably - I just want to find the first TV person to point out that Jr. is a failure as he's the only Hendrick car not in the Chase (and then follow him as he cashes his first Social Security check). However, the worst thing is the "Most Valuable Pit Crew", or whatever it is (it's probably got a sponsor in there somewhere). How in the name of chocolate covered pretzels can Dale Jr.'s pitcrew be considered valuable? They spent the first half of the season finding every excuse fathomable to be completely and utterly rubbish, and have spent the second half of the season being mediocre at best. No, it's clearly a sign that there are NASCAR fans who don't actually watch the racing, and only listen to the sentences that begin "look at Dale Earnhardt Jr...." or "Dick's got something on the 88 car." Rant Over...................7/10

Reed Sorenson - Reed Sorenson needs to win the lottery - that way we can get rid of Paul Menard to go and spend his inheritance and learn to shave properly. That's the only reason Menard the mobile chicane has a drive for next season, and Reed is out on his ear, despite finishing 16th to Menard's 28th, and while it was nice to see Reed trying to diversify into stunt driving as part of "Tony Stewart's Synchronised Spin Team" he is far better than to be jobless. Also, am I the only one who thinks that simply saying "Reynolds Wrap" is funny?.......4/10

Carl Edwards - Crippled Flipper did enough to get through to the Chase, there's not much you can say more than that. That was as well as winning the Nationwide race, and not being able to flip in celebration, which I suppose is a good thing, mainly because the scream of agony would have vapourised the first few rows of the crowd. However, it would be quite interesting to see how easy it is to thank all your sponsors while your foot is in jigsaw form...............4/10

Brian Vickers - Dale Jr. fans are very confused this week. They like Brian Vickers because he's kept Kyle Busch (the sworn enemy of Jr. nation) out of the Chase, but still have residual hatred for him from all the way in Talladega in what feels like a previous century, and of course for Lap124-gate at Daytona in February, where we all remember Vickers took out Jr. But Vickers fan(s), just rest safe i the knowledge that your man is in the Chase in a team that didn't exist three years ago, and Jr.'s a long way outside in the team that's set the pace for pretty much the past decade.........2/10

And the Brikkie goes too...........

Well, Clint Bowyer made a decent attempt at getting the last regular season Brikkie, but instead it gets aimed firmly at Matt Kenseth. Frankly, that was rubbish. To be honest the Brikkie was getting aimed as soon as your qualifying attempt was slower than thick syrup, and it looked like you'd rather be anywhere than Richmond this week, and anywhere other than the Chase next week, and if that was the case the second part of your wish came true.

Next Week

Another stellar line-up for AFNK, with Chase contenders Brian Vickers and Tony Stewart, the (officially) employmentally challenged Jamie McMurray, Italy's own Max Papis. And of course the trifecta of excuses of Dave Blaney, Mike Bliss and Michael McDowell.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

The All-Motorsport Power Rankings No. 35

Bad news everyone, I fear the beginning of the end is near as far as the racing season goes.

NASCAR has its 12 drivers that will fight it out of the title and elsewhere the first titles of the year being decided. Jan Charouz, Tomas Enge and Stefan Mucke too the European Le Mans Series title (and their Aston Martin Racing team took the teams championship) and Nico Hulkenburg became the first driver ever to wrap up the GP2 title before the final weekend.

But at the same time, 2010 is already taking shape, with NASCAR's silly season warming up, with yet another merger. Meanwhile, in F1, "Lotus" (scare quotes very necessary) have been awarded the 13th slot on next year's grid (and the new owners to BMW-Sauber have been given the 14th). Renault may also be there, though not with Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds at the helm.

15 Jarno Trulli (F1)
Jarno’s attention is slipping.

In Spa he was depressed into retirement after following Luca Badoer, and in Monza he explained his move on Nakajima by saying he “got a bit bored to be honest”.

14 Bernie Ecclestone (F1)
F1 in a recession.

Testing bans, engine freezes, budget cuts, major stakeholders making million dollar losses and Bernie gets a 15% pay rise.

13 Fernando Alonso (F1)
“I know nothing”.

Yes we know Manuel, I mean Fernando.

I’m sorry, he’s from Oviedo.

12 Mike Gascoyne (F1)
Back in F1 with Norfolk based, Malaysian backed “Lotus”.

Malaysian Prime Minister: “the cars will be made in Malaysia, by Malaysians.”

Last I checked Norfolk wasn’t in Malaysia (or the 21st century).

11 Nigel Mansell (Le Mans Series)
Is getting to drive with your dad in a 1000km race the adult equivalent of getting to sit in the passenger seat in the family car?

If so, I want to know why I always ended up in the back, and I still haven’t got my Ferrari.

Le Mans Series Silverstone report and results.

10 Mark Martin (NASCAR)
He’s jumped 9 places thanks to the Chase seeding.

That’s the old guy’s biggest leap since someone woke him up after he fell asleep watching MacGyver.

9 Jan Kopecky (IRC)
Winner in the IRC again.

Skoda still a punch line.

IRC Rally Asturias report and results.

8 Garth Tander (V8 Supercars)
Winner of the first Australian V8 Supercar Enduro race of the year.

His wife, Leanne, finished 19th.

Insert a stereotype of your choice here.

7 Jan Charouz (Le Mans Series)
Newly crowed Le Mans Series champion, expected to make it a double success at the upcoming “Smiliest Czech” competition.

6 Adrian Sutil (F1)
Yes, well done you got points.

Unfortunately you’re a fortnight too late of the fanfare, fireworks and first place in the Power Rankings.

5 Brian Vickers (NASCAR)
The only positive Red Bull related news week.

4 Nico Hulkenburg (GP2)
Here’s what GP2 champion Nico said about his engineer;

“He’s my bitch”

Despite winning the GP2 title, Nico won’t be in F1 year. His mother’s grounded him and carries on asking where he heard that word.

3 Denny Hamlin (NASCAR)
To Denny Richmond is like everyone else’s Daytona.

Richmond is roughly one-third the size of Daytona, so, applying logic, Denny must be the third the size of everyone else (roughly the size of a Labrador).

2 Jenson Button (F1)
Jenson on Rubens:

“He doesn’t know his arse from his elbow when it comes to racing cars”

Funnily enough, that was going Flav’s defense next week.

1 Rubens Barrichello (F1)
His helmet in Monza supported Nelson Piquet Jr.

Surely the best way to support him would to show easy it was to crash and help your teammate?

Photo Credits with Ranking Number. 15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8, 6, 5, 3, 2 & 1: Getty Images, via 11, 7 & 4: LAT. 9: Autosport.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

McMurray out in the cold? Others will follow

Last week, almost silently the Yates Racing team and Richard Petty Motorsport reported they were to merge into a single four car team for 2010.

This is nothing new, these days merges and co-operative efforts are all the rage in NASCAR. Yates, already has a tie in with Roush Racing, and with Hall of Fame Racing for the running of the No.96 car. RPM on the other hand has already been through one complete merge, having blended with Ray Evernham’s efforts for this season, resulting in the four car team that this year has run cars for Reed Sorenson, A.J. Allmendinger, Elliott Sadler and Kasey Kahne.

The announcement of the new merged team also came with an announcement of the four drivers who will pilot the Fords they will run.

Kahne, Sadler and Allmendinger will join from RPM, while Paul Menard (and his daddy’s money) will come in from Yates’ existing team.

With the announcement all eyes were on the odd ones out. Hall of Fame look to be out on their own again, and Reed Sorenson is the sole RPM driver to find himself without a ride in the new team, and judging by talk at Richmond over the weekend, for 2010 at all as yet.

However, the real odd man out may have escaped notice.

Jamie McMurray.

We all know that Roush has to trim their five car effort to four over the off season as per NASCAR’s rule. And we all know (barring a massive turn around) that it’s McMurray who will be shown the door.

Knowing this for months whenever quips of questions flew surrounding McMurray’s future, just about everyone was saying he would be let out by Roush in name only.

Everyone expected Roush to continue, if not increase its interest in Yates’ operation and install McMurray in the team.

And that might still happen – Roush increasing it’s interest in the new team running Fords. But McMurray won’t (or can’t as it appears) be there, as with four drivers already named they are limited by the same rule that puts Jamie out at Roush.

So, where can Jamie McMurray go?

More than ever there are a dwindling number of open competitive rides, and still the same number of drivers looking to fill them.

You can point, as many have, at the seat Martin Truex Jr. is vacating at Earnhardt-Ganassi (oh, look another merged team), and he may well go there (although personally I’d like to Aric Almirola given a fighting chance for the seat). And then what else is there?

Not much.

And Jamie McMurray is only one name looking for a ride.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

All Filler, No Killer - The Kid in the Candy Shop Edition

I am a kid who has been given the keys to the candy shop, and the delivery times of the candy truck every week so he can get the fresh stuff before anyone else gets their grubby hands on it.

Yes, through my other amatuer writing I have been given the keys to the realm of NASCAR media.

And, of course, like the metaphorical kid in sweet shop, I haven't a clue what to do with it right. I'm sure you'll agree AFNK isn't exactly the most statistically in depth peice of writing in the world, but there are so many shiny numbers and quotes and facts and figures and more numbers and pictures.

Well it's enough to make you think so hard you'll let a little bit of wee out.

And with that stunning bodily-function related revelation, let's get on with it.

Tony Raines - Kicking off a bumper crop of field fillers this week, comes the man in the #37 car, who managed to limbo under the bar of lowness set by Blaney, Nemechek and company by actually failing to qualify, turning a lap at 176mph, some 3mph slower than the lowest other go-or-go-home car. However, he was 2mph faster than Eric Darnell, who must have lapped the entire Atlanta metro area he was so slow...................12/10

Regan Smith - And this week I bring you not just one, but two DNQ sob stories - and this one has even more sob, as it has slightly less rubbish driver. Regan Smith would have been fast enough to get in the field (4mph faster than Darnell the Cab driver) had Atlanta not been one of the races that the, apparently retired, Terry Labonte turned up to with his Champions' Provisional round his neck (I always imagine they wear these things round their neck like media passes). (Oh - media - look there were 31 cars on the lead lap on lap 160)..........11/10

Dave Blaney - Back to the well trodden field filler pastures of Dave Blaney and Prism Racing, who this week managed only 19 laps (the days when Dave would complete a dizzying 49 laps are but a distant happy memory now) before retiring to the pits, with an "electrical" problem. Presumably it's the same sort of electrical 'problem' I have when I forget to plug my laptop in and it runs out of battery.................10/10

Joe Nemechek - And completing only 6 more laps than Dave, but paradoxically banking 300 fewer almighty dollars, comes Joe Nemechek, whose excuse this week was brakes. That means, stat fans, that Atlanta was the fourth time Joe has claimed brakes stopped his race, making it his favourite excuse, with 'brakes' now being a clear leader over 'transmission'. And I didn't even need the media gubbins to find that out..............10/10

A.J. Allmendinger - Hooray for someone that actually raced! OK, so it's only A.J. Allmendinger, but it's an improvement. A.J. just avoided the 20-somethings of anonymity by finishing a glorious 20th from a 35th starting position, but otherwise had a very quiet race, completing absolutely zero "quality passes" (I'm a beginner at statistics, I haven't a clue what a quality pass is - presumably one where he has no hands on the wheel, or is steering with his feet as he's passing or something else to raise it from 'ordinary' into 'quality')....................6/10

Kurt Busch - The winner of the first Atlanta race brought back the same car, and found the situation very different indeed, struggling to hold on to his car (but then I think everyone was at some point) until he decided to try and reprise his 'Unwind Lap' routine and only succeeded in finding the wall, and waking Joey Logano up..............................5/10

David Reutimann - I'm guessing David doesn't much care for the statistics I now have at my fingertips this week. With his fourth place finish he is still in mathmatical contention for The Chase, using the word 'mathmatical' in the way only sports analysts can of dismissing someone's chances out of hand. And let's be fair to actually be in the top-12 after Richmond David needs a large swathe of Virginia to open up and swallow about a dozen NASCAR drivers (or 42 to be on the safe side), or at least find a way of taking Matt Kenseth out before Blaney, Nemechek and their gang decide to stop for coffee..................3/10

And the Brikkie Goes To.......................

Carl Edwards. Carl, consider this a hold over Brikkie as AFNK doesn't explicitely cover the Nationwide Series. You steal Marcos' Nationwide victory and write off his Grand-Am car last week. That had me calling for Karma to come and get you (read the Power Rankings and you'll understand) and it did. Karma punishes you with a broken foot, and engine trouble (although at least it meant we saw less of that paint job - I know it was a cancer charity, and it's not PC to say so, but that was hideous). That cumulative two week extravaganza of moronic behaviour earn Flipper a Brikkie - aimed at his foot.

Next Week

NASCAR heads for the paradise of The Chase by the dashboard light of a Richmonf night race. And AFNK gets some high profile play mates, with limping Flipper Carl Edwards, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Chase hopeful Brian Vickers and Reed Sorenson (provided he's not scanning classifieds for a job next year). And, of course your weekly dose of field filler with Dave Blaney, Joe Nemechek and Mike Bliss

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Nelson Piquet: Criminal Mastermind II The Family Affair

A few days ago, I wrote (on these every pages – scroll down a little) half jokingly that Nelson Piquet Jr was some sort of criminal genius after the FIA took him seriously enough to launch a publicised investigation into his role in Fernando Alonso’s win in Singapore.

Now it appears that, with the latest news, the criminal ingenuity may run deep in the Piquet family.

While, I, and presumably you, found out about this event slowly through the Belgian Grand Prix weekend, when it was reported on Brazilian TV it seems the FIA knew about it beforehand.

As early as the Hungarian Grand Prix, when, you’ll remember, Piquet was still racing for Renault.

A report for Autosport says how Nelson’s former world champion father, rather unoriginally also called Nelson, told FIA President Max Mosley.

We’ve also learnt more of what other (and by other I mean non-Piquet speech) evidence they have.

They are partly related to technology, with the telemetry showing that Piquet didn’t lift off at the normal place to stop the car from spinning.

Now, exactly how this means that anything was deliberate is beyond me – it’s a mistake, drivers make them (and Nelson Piquet Jr. makes more than most) every accident, almost by definition is caused by a mistake – the driver braking too late or wrongly timed steering input for example, yet no-one claims every accident is deliberate.

Second, and seemingly central to the investigation is a three way meeting between Piquet Jr., Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds, the team’s director of engineering.

Now, this might be great evidence, and all three of them actually admit there was a meeting, they just differ on what was discussed, or rather who said what.

While Piquet suggests it was Symonds who told him when and where to crash, in order to ensure a Safety Car period at the best time for Alonso, both Briatore and Symonds claim it was the driver who first suggested a staged accident. I imagine the conversation started something like “You know I’ve crashed a lot this season......”.

That, to me suggests something like the conversation happened – otherwise why wouldn’t Briatore and Symonds simply deny the meeting ever happened, or that crashing was ever mentioned.

But why would Nelson Piquet suggest he cause an accident himself, damaging his credibility (actually the was probably in tatters already) and potentially his entire career?

Did he get extra money for staging the accident? Briatore described that Piquet was in a “fragile state of mind”. Why? The mystery deepens

Or maybe Flavio Briatore’s rather bizarre claim is closer to the truth than you might think.

He claims he is “a victim of extortion by the Piquet family”.

What if Piquet Jr. did suggest and cause the accident himself, knowing what the likely outcome would be – that of an Alonso victory – knowing (as many suspected) that his tenure at Renault was unstable?

What if he used it as a back-up plan, or even to blackmail Renault into keeping him longer than they wanted given his poor performance?

And, in Hungary, when it started to become very clear that he was headed squarely to the door, he cashed in his metaphorical chips against Renault, by getting his father to tell the FIA.

The Motorsport Power Rankings: No. 34

This week the world of Formula One invented a new party game, well two new party games depending on what kind of parties you like. The first is Musical Italians, where you put some Pavarotti on and all swap your Italians until the music stops, any Italian left without a seat is called Luca.

The second is more complicated, and better suited to more mature parties. It's like a game where you have to guess the murderer, only you have to guess who conspired to make Nelson Piquet Jr. crash, Flav, Pat Symonds, Nelson, Nelson's dad Nelson, or whether is all made up nonsense the PIquet clan have cooked up to get revenge on Renault.

Elsewhere my call for NASCAR Karma was answered by a frisbee, the Australians proved they even plan protests better than anyone else, and Sebastien Bourdais tried to make Superleague Formula racing look respectable.

15 Paul Gentilozzi (ALMS)
Delayed for two months, based on old models, indecisive and probably rubbish. Are we sure it’s not a Jaguar factory effort?

14 Luca Badoer (F1)
He blames the press for outing him from his race drive.

Well, at least we know it wasn’t high speed that caused these hallucinations.

13 Fernando Alonso (F1)
Renault are bringing back KERS for Monza, claiming it will gain then 15 metres off the start. So that’s more positive spin from Renault then.

12 Nelson Piquet Jr. (Criminal Genius)
The only way I could be more suspicious of Piquet’s claims is if Renault pull out of F1 and Piquet Sport take their entry slot.

11 Carl Edwards (NASCAR)
Broken foot from playing Frisbee and engine trouble.

Don’t mess with Karma.

10 Dani Sordo (WRC)
He was leading Rally Australia after day one.

Which clearly means he wasn’t deemed important enough to throw a frozen Koala at.

9 Sebastien Bourdais (Superleague Formula)
Winning on his Superleague Formula debut.

Red Bull claim Seville tapped him up.

8 Sebastien Loeb (WRC)
More cheating Frenchmen!

7 Augusto Farfus (WTCC)
Crash in race one. Check

Win in race two. Check

Yep, just another Farfus weekend.

6 Jorge Lorenzo (Moto GP)
Might need reminding exactly why he’s signed for another year at Yamaha right now.

5 Mikko Hirvonen (WRC)
As if the possibility of him winning the WRC needed to be any less legitimate, he’s now being given wins by FIA stewards.

4 Kasey Kahne (NASCAR)
This week’s NASCAR winner, banking $363,000, so hardly Petty cash.

3 Tonio Liuzzi (F1)
OK, so who’s running the book on Liuzzi taking out Fisichella somewhere on the first lap?

2 Valentino Rossi (Moto GP)
Now, if all Donkey rides were like that we’d all holiday in this country!

1 Giancarlo Fisichella (F1)
Ferrari staff slam Fisichella “he’s too smiley, he’s showing Kimi up.”

Friday, 4 September 2009

Nelson Piquet: Criminal Mastermind?

Today his former team, Renault, have been called before an extraordinary meeting of the World Motorsport Council (WMSC) to answer charges they, along with Piquet, conspired to cause an accident that would benefit Fernando Alonso in Singapore last year.

The official FIA document, a delightfully short press release, details how “representatives of ING Renault F1” have been called to the meeting on September 21.

There is nothing there about ‘representatives of Mr. Piquet’, and given his split from the team I find it difficult to believe that the FIA would include him as part of the team ordered to attend.

Now, those of you who watched last year’s Singapore Grand Prix will recall that Piquet himself had a rather crucial part to play in the accident in question.

He was behind the wheel.

If, as you suspect if this is true Piquet was given orders over the radio, or even before the race to crash soon after Alonso made his pitstop, Nelson (presuming he was in possession of a spine at the time) had the opportunity to go ‘no’ and carry on racing.

No crash.

No Safety Car.

And probably no win for Alonso.

Of course, the explicit absence of Piquet from the FIA press release may be because they wish to punish Renault (the team, presumably, ultimately responsible for the order, and the party involved still competing in F1) first, before then moving on to place any sanctions on Piquet.
However, there is the chance that Piquet has been given some sort of ‘free pass’ as it’s his honesty, some year after the fact, that has brought the matter to the FIA’s attention.

And if that’s true Piquet may have got exactly what he wanted – public distain upon Renault and the men who run the team, including Flavio Briatore, who Piquet labelled his “executioner” after his sacking by the team.

However, the fact that the FIA have even deemed there to be enough substance to the claim to call this extraordinary meeting suggest there is more to this story than the ‘jilted ex-employee invents a story to get revenge’ some (or at least me) thought it was when it first emerged.

Now, it’s doubtful any extra evidence is in the form of in-race radio transmissions, as these are all made available to, at least, FOM (hence we get the delayed snippets during the race) if not the FIA, so anything less than curious code would have been noticed before now.

So what exactly is this evidence?

Has someone else at Renault come forward?

Have the FIA found a convenient piece of paper someone at Renault HQ wishes they’d have shredded?

Or, and all aboard the Cynic-mobile here, have the FIA discovered another way to get back at Renault after the punishment for the loose wheel at Hungary punishment was overturned?

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

The All-Motorsport Power Rankings: Week 33

This week's rankings have a north of the border feeling, as three of America's major racing series slipped north to Canada, with the ALMS returning for its annual race at Mosport, while the Nationwide Series teamed up with Grand-Am to take Montreal.

The Grand-Am race was dominated by Carl Edwards and Marcos Ambrose (or at least it would have been had Flipped not managed to invent a corner and re-arrange the front of the car on the out lap (yes, that's even before they get round to the grid). On Sunday "43 of the best drivers in the world" managed to make driving in the rain look on a difficulty par with Rocket Science as everyone seemingly was aiming to spend as much time pointing in the wrong direction as possible.

And in Europe F1 minnows Force India grabbed their first points with a second place, despite having to replace bits of the car because of a impact with a rabbit (at least I presume it's a rabbit there wasn't enough left to tell really)

15 Steven Wallace (Every which way but forwards)
AP: Charlotte, NC.

Ex-NASCAR champ Rusty Wallace begins civil procedure to disown useless son.

14 Nelson Piquet Jr (Ex-F1)
Hell hath no fury like a Piquet scorned.

Read more here

13 Romain Grosjean (F1)
Says he was taken off by Button in the Belgium melee.

That sort of attitude is what made making fun of Piquet acceptable, son.

Belgian GP results.

12 Brad Keselowski (NASCAR)
The new driver of the No.12 Penske car from 2010.

Look out for David Stemme behind the counter in your nearest Starbucks then.

11 Scott Dixon (Indycar)
He’s frustrated at finishing second “I’ve seen this before several times.”

Luckily Scott has DirecTV, so he won’t have to see Indycar again.

10 Vijay Mallya (F1)
Aztecs finally vindicated as animal sacrifice brings first points, Mallya to open rabbit farm.

9 Jan Magnussen (ALMS)
Taking the GT2 Corvette’s first win in the ALMS in Mosport, along with Johnny O’Connell.

8 Carl Edwards (NASCAR)
Carl’s weekend was evidence there is no benevolent Lord in motor racing.

First Carl junks his Grand-Am ride on the out lap, before Marcos Ambrose even gets in the car, then on Sunday Carl robs Marcos blind of the Nationwide win.

I'm supporting Karma at Atlanta.

7 Ryan Briscoe (Indycar)
Winner in Chicagoland, leading the Indycar point standings.

Not much else to say.

Indycar Chicagoland results.

6 David Brabham (ALMS)
Random, tenuously related thought.

If when Dyson Racing modify a car they are Dysonising it, are Highcroft always Patronising the field?

ALMS Mosport report and results.

5 Marcos Ambrose (NASCAR)
Marcos to visit a psychic to discover exactly how he wronged Canada (or Carl Edwards) in a past life.

4 Jorge Lorenzo (Moto GP)
What’s wrong with this sentence?

Two top MotoGP riders fall off and not one of them is Jorge Lorenzo.

To make matters worse he actually wins.

3 Andrew Ranger (NASCAR)
Third in the Montreal Nationwide race, top Canadian, and judging by the clips of Canadian Tire races in the broadcast, a complete mad man.

NASCAR Nationwide Series Montreal results.

2 Kimi Raikkonen (F1)
Thankfully in front of the famous Force India this week.

1 Giancarlo Fisichella (F1)
Another misunderstanding at Ferrari HQ

Human Resources department ordered to get busy with the Fisi.

Mistakenly buy Soda Stream.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Indycar Entering a Minefield NASCAR Knows Well

Various hardline fans of the two series might not agree but on recent evidence Indycar seems to be heading for the same sort of worries that have been writ large during this NASCAR season.

As fans of Indycar will no doubt be aware the powers-that-be within the series introduced a raft of measures aimed at improving the races, especially on the oval tracks they visit. There were various aerodynamic widgets added, or made optional, to increase downforce, while others were taken away to increase close racing, and then they introduced an engine boost that a driver can use a set number of times during a race, to help pass a rival, defend from a rival, or catch up to a rival.

The first oval race, in Kentucky, was a revelation (especially compared to what had gone before it). There was close racing, doses of overtaking and lowly Ed Carpenter for Vision Racing came as close to breaking the life extinguishing stranglehold that the powerhouses of Penske and Ganassi have had on ovals as anyone has in eons.

Reviews were almost universally positive, or at least heralded the first steps out of the levels of catatonic boredom Indycar had all too regularly visited, and so it was a certain level of excitement that fans braced themselves for the second oval race since the rule changes. This time at Chicagoland.

Now, here I have to point out my observations on the race are based on Indycar’s online highlight package and various written reports, so they may not be perfect.

The finish was the race was spectacular (as recent finishes at the Illinois track have been) but this was a little extra than recent finishes. Without wishing to pour scorn on greatness Ryan Briscoe’s winning margin of 0.0077 seconds pales into insignificance compared to last year’s so-close-they-called-it-wrong episode. What made this a little special was the fact that covering the top 13 cars – every lead lap finisher – was 0.8269 seconds. In fact there was only a shade over half a second covering the top 12. There may only have been a handful of green laps before the finish, but what it still shows is that the stringing out of the field can be almost non-existent.

Now, you can’t fault close racing. It’s what people want to see when they spin the turnstiles and sit in the stands or pay the subscription and sit in front of their TV, which is what Indycar wants and needs right now, but a look away from the open wheel world shows the minefield they may be stepping into.

A minefield in which NASCAR has been getting its legs blown off in for years.

Where can you get close, fast racing in NASCAR? Daytona and Talladega, the restrictor plate tracks, where the sanctioning body artificially bunches up the field by taking away horsepower from the engines. Now, there is nothing that artificial about Indycar’s rule changes, but it’s having a similar effect.

And what else, aside from close racing, have NASCAR’s plate races become synonymous with?

Huge crashes.

Even to the point that the networks that are “lucky” enough to be broadcasting these races use the threat of “The Big One” in its marketing for the race. Huge crashes may get viewing figures, but I’d guess that even the IRL don’t want that.

Two of the three plate races this year have had massive crashes in their closing laps (often after late cautions like yesterday’s Indycar race), with several very damaged cars, and handful of injured fans and a return to post-Dale-Sr levels of fear over safety in plate races, with several drivers being very vocal in their criticism of the racing.

And as far as safety goes NASCAR’s jalopy knocks an Indycar into a cocked hat. They have fenders, so minor touches are just that, rather than the danger of inter-locking wheels in Indycar. NASCARs also have a roof, and have nothing of an Indycar Dallara’s tendency to take off if the air flow gets under them.

Perhaps the latest (and most re-shown) instance of this last trait has been Dario Franchitti’s flight at Michigan when he drove for AGR.

A small amount of contact at speed gets him sideways, the car get’s airborne, before landing back on the track (and other cars) and sending any nearby scattering.

Now, instead of the half a dozen or so cars he has within a second of him there, put 12, 15 or a full field behind them as would have happened if the same accident struck at Chicagoland last night.

You have the makings of Indycar’s very own “Big One” with all the consequences you don’t want to think of.

That said, there are some there is nothing wrong with NASCARs plate races, and they continue to be huge audience draw, which is what Indycar needs.

They just don’t need it to go wrong.

Friday, 28 August 2009

All Filler, No Killer - The Back on the Road Edition

I've returned from my three week summer blogging break, which of couse gives me one of the AFNK editions where I get to pick and choose what drivers I want to rant about. They're my rules, and I'm sticking to them.

And so we pick the Cup Series up at their second trip to Bristol, TN, and one of the rare night races I actually get to watch live (incidentally the average human consumes enough caffeine to kil a horse - every year).

Enough wittering, on with the usual gubbins, 7 drivers with paragraphs of nonsense that often actually manage to mention NASCAR.

Dave Blaney - Dave, Dave, Dave, what are we going to do with you. You can manage to get the Prism heap of scrap car to start 4th, but then Prism heap of scrap team and the return of Phil Parson's legendary Moth Wallet (along with a helpful nudge from David Gilliland) managed to end his after an official count of 8 laps. The official reason for the retirement was an "accident". That was a rubbish accident! If "accidents" like that put cars out at Bristol (or anywhere) then no-one would actually finish, Personal Injury Lawyers would be inudated with people having "accidents" (I decided to chainsaw my arm off), and many, many more children would have to be told by their parents they were an "accident" (Well, Jonny, you were an accident, first we had a candlelight dinner, then a bath together, before watching a blue movie in bed while I licked body chocolate off your mother......) Oh, and showing my colours here, but with the economy picking up again (apparently, no-one's told my bank account) can we please get Dave into a 2010 ride with a team that isn't so 'environmentally friendly'.....................8/10

Joe Nemechek - While there may be hope for The Blaney, there can be no hope for Joe Nemechek. Even with a sponsor his season has plumbed such depths that the TV team don't even bother to mention he's gone "behind the wall" or "to the garage" anymore. In fact, I fully expect them to start telling us that Joe (or Blaney) haven't done either of those things by, say, lap 50. This week Joe was seen skulking off to count his Greenies after an official count of 48 laps...................10/10

Tony Stewart - Put your fingers in your ears now Tony Stewart fans (or actually skip down a paragraph as your hearing does not effect your ability to read) because you know this isn't going to be pretty. You done that now? Good. What the hell was that?! Just because you have an umpteen hundred point lead doesn't mean you can decide to complete rubbish for a week. First you are the first car to go a lap down, then you have so many spare radios that must have had more dud equipment than your local AV swap meet, then you go speeding down pit road, and when you finally have had enough of (almost certainly) turning the air inside the car blue and decide to try and park it, NASCAR come along with a 'helpful' truck to get you going again. Don't they know who you are?! When you just want to go home they should just let you.....................7/10

Joey Logano - Sliced Bread's race was a little like a single round or toast with strawberry jam which you later find has a maggot in it. Short and sweet at the beginning, before hours of fret and worry, with a nasty ending. He backs his car into the wall early on to scupper his own race, before donning the black cape and picking up a scithe to read the final last rites (priests do hold a scithe when reading the last rites, right, just for effect) for Clint Bowyer's Chase hopes, by giving him a helping the Hamburger Helper into Michael Waltrip....................7/10

Martin Truex Jr - More ups and downs than a roller coaster (or a whore's drawer's for a crude British turn of phrase) is one (or two) ways to describe Truex's race. Speeding off pit road was the first big drop, before working his way all the way back up to the sharp end of the field, before a tyre let go. Then came the loop-the-loop, or corkscrew (if we're continuing the roller coaster metaphor, I'll let you think of something else for the other other) when we were shown employee relations MWR style and Martin got together with his boss next year en route to shortening Michael's car and watering the Bristol apron (I wonder if Martin's been told that was one of his chassis for next year?).................5/10

Sam Hornish Jr. - Praise be! Sam Hornish has returned. After a number of recent weeks when 'Sam Hornish' did quite well in races, Sam returned to the sideways form we know and love him for (not you David Stremme, you're just rubbish, no get out and let the new spotty kid in), by wiping his livery off on the wall, seriously Sam, sponsors don't like that, you can't even read their names on the wall after you've done it. He didn't even manage to beat the steam driven world record (which was actually broken this week). From this we can only summise that Sam hasn't been Sam in recent weeks, and well, the latest series of Top Gear finished here a few weeks ago, so The Stig's been free......................7/10

Kurt Busch - Congratulations Kurt Busch! You have done something that most of us previously though impossible, you have managed to have a pit problem that even Dale Earnhardt Jr. hasn't had. Was that tear off just extra sticky, or did you have a particularly weedy crewman this week? Kristen, is there a weedy #2 crewman, like one you needs help getting the lids off yogurts or is always claiming he "loosened" jar lids? On the good side we we're given the American Beauty moment of NASCAR as camera's watched the suddenly freed tear off wend it's way into the catch fencing, although no-one has confirmed the director as saying "it's the most beautiful thing I've ever filmed"..............3/10

And the Brikkie goes to...........

As if there was ever any competition this week, of course it's Kevin Harvick. He was the knee-capping to Joey Logano's mob-hit execution of Clint Bowyer's chase hopes, managed to tear up his own equipment, and by all accounts was living up to the name of a completely different Dwarf to his nickname, and he wasn't Doc, Sleepy, Sneezy, Bashful (although in previous seasons he's been one full of bashes) or Dopey (actually scratch that, Dopey might explain a few things).

Next Week

Well, of course, as is happens, I'm back off my break just as NASCAR's premier series have a week off ahead of going to Atlanta. There we'll have a return for Kurt Busch, a possible no-show from Regan Smith, all too rare visits from A.J. Allmendinger and David Reutimann, and of course, your recommended weekly allowance of the fibre that goes straight through NASCAR, with Dave Blaney, Joe Nemechek and Tony Raines.